A version of this article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Your Court, the official magazine of USA Volleyball. It has been updated with Lauren’s recent accomplishments.

During middle school in Greenville, S.C., Lauren McCutcheon was bullied relentlessly.

“I was born deaf,” said Lauren, who is in her junior year at J.L. Mann Academy. “That made me a lot different from everyone else.”

For many young adults like Lauren, the fear of successfully maneuvering through obstacles can seem overwhelming.

At first, Lauren drew strength from her huge support system of friends and family, and by remaining focused and confident. Then, she discovered volleyball and it became her oasis – her safe place where nothing else mattered and where she could allow herself to get lost in the competition.

Uncovering this love for volleyball, Lauren found something to put all her effort into, which helped her gain confidence.

Refocusing her energy into volleyball has proven to be a successful strategy for Lauren. The 6’1″ outside hitter has been part of USA Volleyball’s High Performance Program as a member of the Girls Select A1 team, and has played for Upward Stars and Axis club teams. She’s also committed to playing volleyball at the University of South Carolina.

She’s now part of the USA Deaf Volleyball team, which just won the gold medal at the 2019 Pan American Deaf Volleyball Regional Qualification in Brazil. The team did not lose a set during the tournament. Next year, Lauren will be playing with the team in the 4th World Deaf Volleyball Championships in Monza, Italy. The team has also qualified for the 2021 Deaflympics.

At the World Deaf Championships, players will not be able to play with hearing aids and must have their implants turned off. Lauren has done this before, but only when her batteries have run out during a match – and only for a short time. During the championships in Italy, it’s for the entire match.

Although Lauren feels nervous, she has a positive outlook and is ready to face the challenge.

“…There’s a lot of communication going on with hands and eyes. It keeps me more focused and I learn from a visual perspective.”

By trusting her teammates, working hard to win, and always wanting the ball more than anyone, Lauren has found that she can more easily face her fears – and help others who are facing similar obstacles.

If you’re facing a scary challenge, Lauren recommends that you say focused and find a passion, as she did with volleyball.

“That gave me more confidence in myself and living my life.”